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"Ash Wednesday" - Monday Moments - February 19, 2024

Happy Monday, my friends! What do you think of our new format? LOVEboldly is transitioning our email communications from Mailchimp (yes, that’s the actual name of that company and, yes, it’s problematic) to SubStack. Because Monday Moments are our most regular emails, you get to experience the new format first. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

 

“We rise again from ashes, from the good we've failed to do. We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew. If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true. An offering of ashes, an offering to You.”

 

You may recognize these words as the first verse of the hymn “Ashes” written by Tom Conroy in 1978. “Ashes” has been a mainstay of Roman Catholic parishes in the United States on Ash Wednesday and occasionally throughout Lent ever since it was introduced. Ash Wednesday is meant to be a penitential day when we take a step back and focus on our hearts and souls. Some of us seek out the imposition of ashes where a person literally smears ashes on our foreheads usually with the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” The tradition is then to allow the ashes to remain in place until they blow away or, ostensibly, until one takes a shower. (Side note, St. John United Church of Christ in Columbus offered ashes mixed with glitter with the words “you are stardust and to stardust you shall return”).      

 

Throughout the majority of church iterations in my life—Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, UCC, etc.—I have always struggled with Ash Wednesday and principally the imposition of ashes. While the reminder of our mortality and our need to be accountable to our neighbors are both important, wearing ash crosses on our foreheads is a type of public piety I have a hard time accepting. Christians in Christian majority countries and historically Christian countries like elements of public piety. We wear crosses, scapulars, saint medals, shirts branded with religious iconography and Christian statements, and affix stickers to our water bottles, mugs, and laptops. What we wear or carry may have sentimental value, but often we deploy these symbols in order to say that we’re Christians. Therein lies my struggle with these elements of public piety.

 

I used to be convinced that if I needed symbols to tell you that I was a Christian, then I was failing as a Christian. The problem with that conviction is that external symbols can be a powerful witness to and of a person’s faith in the public square. I remain in awe of Islamic women who choose to cover their heads in public or Sikh men who choose to wear turbans during an era of political and social polarization and hatred. While I typically do not wear crosses or other religious jewelry publicly, I’m quick to claim the title of “Queer Christian” or “Queer pastor” and almost without thinking about it, I wore my “This Queer Pastor Loves You” shirt in my most recent professional headshots (look at the photo above). Yet if still the only reason people know we are a Christian is because we’re wearing a piece of jewelry or a particular shirt and are denying not only our faith, but our God with our lives, then those symbols are nothing but fashion accessories.

 

When I started writing this reflection, I searched for the lyrics to “Ashes” and I learned that in 2019 the publisher had changed the lyrics due to longstanding complaints about the phrase “create ourselves anew.” Apparently, many people argued that it is God and God alone who creates. I would encourage us to co-create with God and with our neighbors. We need to co-create a world where people of faith truly live out the call of all religions to liberation and affirmation for every person. Though ultimately we may be but (star)dust, this dust will shout and this dust will create.

 

No matter how you are observing Lent or even if you are observing it, how will you spend these days? What will you create and/or co-create?

 

Let us pray:

“We rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do. We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew. If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true, an offering of ashes, an offering to you.


We offer you our failures, we offer you attempts, the gifts not fully given, the dreams not fully dreamt. Give our stumblings direction, give our vision wider view, an offering of ashes, an offering to you.


Then rise again from ashes, let healing come to pain, though spring has turned to winter, and sunshine turned to rain, the rain we’ll use for growing to create the world anew from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.


Thanks be to the Father, who made us like himself. Thanks be to the Son, who saved us by his death. Thanks be to the Spirit who creates the world anew from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.” Amen. (Tom Conroy, “Ashes,” 1978)

 

Blessings on your weeks, my friends! Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

 

Faithfully,

 

Ben    

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